The place came with a nasty old beast of an oil-fired steam boiler. I would guess at best it was probably 60% efficiency, but we'll never know since she was cracked. Yup, we bought a house without heat. When we placed our offer, we figured we'd just replace the steam boiler and move on. After a few quotes we realized it would make more sense to invest in a high efficiency gas-fired water boiler instead. Yes we'd spend more money, but not that much more in the grand scheme of things. Plus we'd gain numerous added benefits that we felt would add great value to the property.
Direct vent - with gas you can direct vent out the side of your house, which means you don't have to vent through the chimney. This frees up the chimney for use with a wood or pellet stove, possibly even a full blown fireplace? Who knows?
Efficiency, Energy Cost Savings - Our new water boiler will be a high efficiency modulating boiler. That means it will only produce enough heat to replace what the house is losing to the outdoors, as opposed to a steam boiler that just turns on and runs at full blast until your thermostat is satisfied. Furthermore water doesn't exceed 180 degrees in a water boiler, whereas in a steam system the boiler has to boil water (212 degrees F). And as any thermodynamic geek will tell you, it takes quite a bit of energy to convert liquid water to vapor. We plan on staying in this house for a very long time. The walls aren't insulated, the ceilings are tall, so it only makes sense to invest in the best system possible.
Zones & Comfort - With a hydronic system, we have the ability to create multiple zones each with there own thermostat.
Make the basement bigger- The new system is sleek. The boiler mounts on the wall and doesn't take up much space. Plus we can get rid of the oil tank that hogged a quarter of the floor space. The basement can be used for storage and perhaps as a workspace. We've also never been a fan of the smell of oil.